Similar to Los Angeles on the “left coast” of the States, Sweden's West Coast is home to Gothenburg, the nation’s second most populous city, located along a dramatic 100-mile coastline of more than 8,000 skerries and islands.
For more than a decade, the laidback coastal city with its cosmopolitan vibe has hosted an annual two-month Yuletide festival that transforms Gothenburg into “the Christmas City.” Designed by Dutch city planners in the 17th century, Gothenburg is marked by canals and broad boulevards which are illuminated during the holiday season by a two-mile “Lane of Lights” (photo below). In keeping with the city’s affable reputation, holiday choirs serenade shoppers in Gothenburg’s numerous picturesque, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, while the city’s Michelin-starred restaurants offer their own interpretations of the traditional “Julbord” Christmas buffet table.
A short drive from the city center, the Bohuslän coast is where the “Big Five” means lobster, langoustine, oysters, mussels, and prawns. Notable for its rocky cliffs and granite outcroppings and pristine inland lakes, West Sweden embraces its maritime heritage with a “sensual gray weather” atmosphere marked by wood-fired saunas, warm fires, and a glorious winter coat of Christmas lights and décor.
Christmas at Liseberg: Sailing into Christmas at Liseberg on a flat canal boat, complete with candles, mulled wine, and blankets, is a bit like Ebenezer Scrooge traveling through time and space to experience Christmas Past, Present, and Future. A snowy winter wonderland with more than 700 illuminated Christmas trees and five million lights, the historic amusement park founded in 1923 is transformed into a veritable Yuletide North Pole complete with reindeer sleigh rides (photo at top). Rustic market stalls offer marzipan pigs and plenty of glögg, while traditional Swedish Christmas buffets abound in the restaurants. There’s even a “green” restaurant, evocative of a Swedish great-grandmother’s kitchen. The largest Christmas market in Sweden, Liseberg at Christmas features a vast array of artisanal gifts and handcrafted items, with a focus on Scandinavian design.
Hotel Clarion Post: As soon as you step from Gothenburg’s Central Station onto the vast public square Drottningtorget, you can’t help but gaze upon the massive neo-classical edifice with an ornate façade of pillars and carvings that were once the city’s historic post office building. Built in 1925 of Bohuslän granite, the listed building is now Clarion Hotel Post, a contemporary design hotel that has retained the structure’s imposing proportions and majestic public spaces alongside a stylish new tower and atrium. The sleek rooms feature wooden floors and Swedish textiles, complemented by citywide views from the panoramic windows.
While the hotel’s sumptuous breakfast buffet is justifiably celebrated, gourmands book a table at Restaurant vRA, the acclaimed raw food and sushi restaurant that sources seafood from the North Atlantic and West Sweden. At the Art Deco Norda Bar & Grill, Manhattan chef Marcus Samuelsson conceived the concept “Gothenburg meets New York” as an amalgam of his own Swedish-American background. Cocktails are served by Dosa Ivanov, the 2015 winner of the “World’s Best Bartender” competition.
Throughout the holidays, hotel guests and visitors are serenaded by Gothenburg’s choral Christmas tree (photo above), a choir in the shape of a Yuletide evergreen, that materializes at gloaming on Drottningtorget.
Restaurang Gabriel: When Gothenburgers seek the freshest seafood, they head to Feskekörka (or “Fish Church”), the historic fish market that resembles a hall of worship and houses Restaurant Gabriel. Visitors from around the world climb a narrow flight of stairs to the father-son restaurant overlooking the market. An open kitchen enables patrons to witness the preparation of some of Scandinavia’s most delicious seafood served from the sea to the plate. Built in 1874, the Fish Church has remained a proud symbol of Gothenburg’s maritime heritage and the restaurant’s owners Johan and Gunnar Malm perpetuate this laudable legacy.
Röda Sten Art Center: One of Gothenburg’s most innovative Christmas markets is housed in a former boiler house at the entrance to the harbor. An alternative arena for contemporary art, Röda Sten Art Center transforms its massive “cathedral” room into a design-based holiday bazaar that features the craftsmanship of Swedish artists and designers. On weekends, the popular vegetarian-based restaurant morphs into a cool lounge complete with deejays and smooth grooves. The 30-minute ferry journey from Gothenburg center offers stunning maritime views, as well as complimentary mulled wine.
Gothia Towers: An unmistakable landmark on the Gothenburg skyline, Gothia Towers is a mega-complex of skyscrapers and conference center completed in 2015 that borders Liseberg, Europe’s second largest amusement park. Offering spectacular views of the surrounding city, the 1,200-room hotel with eight bars and restaurants (Heaven 23 is home of the fabled King Size Shrimp Sandwich) feels like a self-contained world, not unlike a Vegas resort (albeit without the gaming). Sleek and contemporary, the Sky rooms showcase the clean lines of Scandinavian interiors. During the holidays, the traditional Christmas table is presented by Executive Chef Krister Dahl, the world’s only chef to win four gold medals at the Culinary Olympics.
Restaurang Atelier: The former Fürstenberg Palace, once home to the most valuable art collection in all of Sweden, has been reborn as Hotel Pigalle, a Belle Époque boutique hotel with a rooftop restaurant called Atelier. An amalgam of Swedish summerhouse and Parisian bordello, the candlelit restaurant is a hothouse of romance and indulgence, complete with chandeliers, velvet banquettes, and fantastical floral arrangements. Imagine Oscar Wilde sharing champagne and bon mots with Colette and Lady Gaga. Sourced from regional small producers, the French-inflected menu reprises Swedish classics with Gallic flair and a bit of decadence.
Champagne, coffee, and Christmas gifts: The cobblestone pedestrian street Magasinsgatan is home to design boutiques and Swedish fashion brands, as well as Michelin-starred restaurants and champagne bars. Sweden’s Café of the Year Da Matteo has two cafés in the neighborhood—and food trucks offer classic Swedish fare such as fried herring, mashed potatoes, and lingonberries.
Haga: A former blue-collar immigrant neighborhood, Haga has become the hipster Brooklyn of Gothenburg. Early 19th-century cobblestone streets and wooden houses are complemented by outdoor market stalls with locally-produced products. During the holidays, children’s choirs sing on street corners while shoppers nibble on homemade baked goods, including gingerbread and saffron buns (photo above).
Party with Mr. P: When you wander into Mr. P, you might feel as if you’ve entered a party hosted in the grand salon of a notable aesthete. Filled with art from the collection of Pontus Fürstenberg, the 19th-century merchant who amassed the most prominent art collection in Sweden, the convivial contemporary restaurant honors the arts patron with a multi-cultural menu that eschews carbohydrates and, instead, focuses on vegetables and classic cuisines such as steak tartare and salmon poke. Located alongside the Gothenburg Museum of Art, Mr. P is owned by one of Sweden’s leading restaurant and entertainment groups, which all but guarantees a good time.
Thorskogs Manor (aka Thorskogs Slott): For those who yearn for the Victorian charms of Christmas, few locales are more romantic than Thorskogs Manor located 30 minutes outside Gothenburg. A grand estate complete with English park, the red-brick mansion was built by a shipping magnate in 1892. During the holiday season, Thorskogs Manor becomes a Yuletide retreat fragranced with birch wood fires and mulled wine. Chandeliers and candles shimmer throughout the various parlors and lounges, all festooned with wreaths and towering Christmas trees. A four-course Christmas dinner served in a festive dining room is followed by a smorgasbord of traditional Swedish sweets (and perhaps a walk through the snowy woodlands). At evening’s end, you’ll want to toast and sing out, “God bless us, every one.”
Gullmarsstrand in Fiskebäckskil: With more than 8,000 islands, the West Coast archipelago is notable for its quaint fishing villages such as Fiskebäckskil where Gullmarsstrand Hotel provides a breathtaking panorama of the Gullmarsfjorden islands and bays. Located about an hour’s drive from Gothenburg, the seaside hotel has built upon its roots as a bathhouse restaurant to become a sleek Scandinavian resort that offers oyster and lobster safaris, sea kayaking, and an acclaimed waterfront restaurant—all perfectly situated amidst the picturesque beauty of Fiskebäckskil’s wooden boathouses, coastal villas, and cobblestone alleyways.
Göteborg City Card: One of the easiest ways to move around Gothenburg is with the Göteborg City Card, which offers free transportation on trams, boats, and buses. As well, the Göteborg City Card enables free admission to most Gothenburg museums and Christmas attractions, including Liseberg amusement park.